A second body has been found in the debris of a massive fire at a Denver construction site Wednesday afternoon that was so hot it melted dozens of cars, damaged 12 other buildings and sent a thick plume of smoke 200 feet into the air that was visible throughout much of the city.
Almost 24 hours after the initial 911 call, investigators from the Denver Fire Department are still working to put out remaining hotspots and comb through the ashes at the charred construction site near 18th Avenue and Emerson Street in the North Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Two people who are presumed to be construction workers were initially declared unaccounted for in wake of the blaze, Denver Fire spokesperson Greg Pixley said. One body was found on Wednesday afternoon. The other was found on Thursday, and Pixley says it doesn't appear that anyone else is still missing.
The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner will identify the bodies, but Pixley said that will take some time.
Cadaver dogs from West Metro and South Metro Fire scoured the construction site -- efforts that were hindered by the collapse of the building and huge piles of rubble.
“This fire is not something we see every day," Pixley said.
Pixley says the Denver Fire Department is working with homicide investigators and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to investigate what led up to the blaze.
Firefighters were able to save 12 of the 13 buildings affected by the fire, but Pixley says the other buildings did sustain some sort of heat damage, and that people who live in the residential structures will likely be displaced.
The fire was so hot that it could be felt as far as 400 feet away, according to Pixley. It also melted the electrical meters and conduit providing services at some of the buildings right next to the construction site.
“They were absolutely just eliminated due to the heat,” Pixley said.
Six people were injured in the fire. One of them was a firefighter, who had burns on his hands, arms and face. Pixley said the firefighter has been released from the hospital.
The other people were injured either jumping out of the third floor of the burning construction site or catching workers who were. Pixley said there were about 50 construction workers in the building just before the fire.
They were building what was supposed to be a 5-story, 85-unit apartment building that was scheduled to be finished in July or August.
Now, what remains is a pile of debris that firefighters will have to comb through for the foreseeable future, Pixley said.
“When a building collapses, we’ve got layers upon layers of debris,” Pixley said. “It’s going to take some time to remove that debris so we can get underneath.”
The homicide unit has taken 100 witness reports so far, Pixley said, and firefighters are looking to determine why the structure was able to ignite so quickly.
“The exposed wood on any type of building under construction creates a problem,” Pixley said. “The video is startling how fast that fire developed.”
Pixley directed anyone who has questions about property damaged by the fire or resources if they’ve been displaced to contact the Colorado Division of Insurance and to call 311.
Firefighters will likely continue to cordon off the area where the fire occurred for a while, Pixley said, although that time frame isn’t clear.
Pixley ended his news conference by saying that the situation could have had a much different outcome were it not for the quick-thinking of the construction workers and firefighters who were first on the scene.
“We were lucky this wasn’t worse,” he said.
Vertix Builders released the following statement about the two deaths:
Vertix Builders is deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries resulting from the fire at the Emerson Place Apartments Project in Denver on March 7th. Our hearts go out to all of those who were involved, as well as to their families.
The company is working closely with Denver Police, Denver Fire and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the investigation into the cause of the fire. Vertix Builders places the highest value on the health and safety of our employees, subcontractors and the people who live and work in the vicinity of each and every Vertix Builders project. We are determined to gather the facts and work with authorities to establish how this tragic incident occurred.
Vertix Builders would also like to recognize the on-site workers who risked their own lives to rescue fellow workers in the course of the fire. No doubt, the heroic efforts by our employees, subcontractors and emergency responders saved lives.
The focus right now is to support those who were impacted by the fire. Vertix Builders also recognizes that many people in the community were also affected by this incident. Vertix Builders joins the community in mourning the loss of life and hope for a quick recovery for those who were injured.
UBS released the following statement:
We will be eternally grateful to our heroic superintendent who risked his life by running back into the burning building up to the third floor to make sure every last one of our workers were accounted for and safely outside. Words cannot express our sadness for the loss of life and injuries of our fellow tradesmen on the Emerson Place project. Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected by this terrible incident.
9NEWS is also getting a closer look at surveillance video of the fire - several nearby businesses had security cameras on and recording when the blaze broke out.
Midtown Impatient was next door to the fire. On Thursday, they scrolled through their footage and watched what they'd captured. In the video, you can see how quickly the fire broke out and how fast one person ran toward the burning building.
A construction lift in the video could be seen beginning to rise to help out people who were stuck inside. Then you can see one person jump down from the ledge onto the ground.
The fire was so severe, people leaped from the third floor to escape the heat.
From one angle, the first signs of trouble are visible and then, just five minutes later, the heat cooks the paint on some cars. But before the full extent of the damage became visible, the camera started to tip down: no match for the heat.
"It's important for people to know everyone tried. Everyone showed up," said Christy Chaudhari with Midtown Impatient. "The fire department, police were so great even before they could get on scene the construction workers, sub-contractors, general contractors, it didn’t matter who, they all tried to make sure neighbors got out. What can I do to help, how can I make sure you are safe."